Is there a menu? Well, according to Chef Roberto Apa, “not really”. Is that how a meal should be? I don’t know about you, but I adore surprises. I enjoy dishes that can wow, that can take me out of the comfort zone, that tell me flavour combinations work when you wouldn’t have thought otherwise. In short, Bella Cucina, Le Meridien Gurugram’s Italian restaurant, is pretty much on point creating an experiential dining experience with simplicity that will leave you wanting more.
Apa hails from Napoli but has lived and worked round the world before calling Gurugram home, at least for now. His at-ease style and genial conversations at the start of a meal gets you ready, just whets the appetite before the first dish appears—a liquid Caprese salad. Take the individual portions of tomato and mozzarella and basil; and instead of arranging it in the colours of the Italian flag, this one comes in a glass to slurp up. It wasn’t what I was expecting but the next two entrees made up for the liquid start. The humble tomato bruschetta and deep fried fish—in short, heavenly. I love a good bruschetta, I make it at home all the time and in fact, end up ordering if I see it on a menu. The one on the table was fresh, what I look for in the first bite. It’s not surprising as Chef Apa believes in true local produce. The herbs are grown in the hotel’s garden and other produce, like fish coming in from down south. It’s only a few ingredients, to keep the restaurant truly authentically Italian that are brought from foreign shores. The fritters on the other hand, prawn and calamari are standard but the chef served sardines and anchovies, were crunchy and packed a punch with a dash of lemon juice. “This is usually what people snack on back home,” he says, giving us a peak into his Italy. Had we eaten the whole portion, we wouldn’t have space for anything more, so with much self restraint (can you even when it comes to fried foods?) we asked for the next course.
Out came a humble chicken soup boasting a flavourful consommé. It did remind me of home, an essence of comfort if I may. Chef Apa’s style of serving flavours after talking with customers, getting a general sense of their likes and dislikes, seems to be working well. And I for one, love a soup on a cold winter night. Then came the lamb tortellini, hands down the best dish of the evening. Rich, soulful and densely filled, it hit all the check marks that you look for in a restaurant experience. Even the Japanese party sitting at the next table glanced over and over again as we relished every bite. The chicken cacciatora next was delicious—chicken with rich tomato sauce served with a mash and vegetables, but my mind was still on the tortellini plate!
Personally, I’m not a dessert person but would have to say the celery sorbet (pre-dessert) was a good cleanser before the sweet attack. The stuffed cannelloni with ricotta and accompanied by a homemade bitter orange marmalade was a melody in the making. The bitterness culled the sweetness, something I enjoy; and then the chocolate and almond cake with pista ice cream was a burst of gooey and decadent, well, chocolate.
While the next time I’d happily stop after the chicken, skipping the sweet treats altogether, I would definitely not leave without a swig of the homemade chocolate-amaretto-rum-coffee combination served by the chef at the end. Strong but needed to end the meal on a high while nibbling on homemade rustic almond biscuits, Bella Cucina or ‘beautiful kitchen’ is indeed a happy place if you’re in the mood for good Italian in the Capital. We sure were!
Where: Le Meridien, Gurugram
Pocket pinch: Approx. Rs 4,500 for two